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Middle East and North Africa

Get smarter: A world of development data in your pocket!

Nagaraja Rao Harshadeep's picture
Many dinner conversations and friendly debates proceed in a data vacuum: “The problem is big… very big!” How big exactly? Most likely your friend has no idea. 

It is often said that we live in a new data age. Institutions such as the Bank, UN agencies, NASA, ESA, universities and others have deluged us with an overwhelming amount of new data obtained painstakingly from countries and surveys or observed by the increasing number of eyes in the sky. We have modern tools such as mobile phones that are more powerful than old mainframes I used to use in my university days. You can be in rural Malawi and still have access to decent 3G data networks.
 
Open data for sustainable development

Old fuel for a new future: the potential of wood energy

Paula Caballero's picture
A woman buying a clean cookstove in Tanzania. Klas Sander / World Bank

The use of wood energy – including firewood and charcoal – is largely considered an option of last resort. It evokes time-consuming wood collection, health hazards and small-scale fuel used by poor families in rural areas where there are no other energy alternatives.

And to a certain extent this picture is accurate. A study by the Alliance for Clean Cookstoves found that women in India spend the equivalent of two weeks every year collecting firewood, which they use to cook and heat their homes. Indoor air pollution caused by the smoke from burning firewood is known to lead to severe health problems: the WHO estimates 4.3 million deaths a year worldwide attributed to diseases associated with cooking and heating with solid fuels. Incomplete combustion creates short-lived climate pollutants, which also act as powerful agents of climate change.

But wood is a valuable source of energy for many of the 2.9 billion people worldwide who lack access to clean cooking facilities, including in major cities. It fuels many industries, from brickmaking and metal processing in the Congo Basin to steel and iron production in Brazil.  

In fact, the value of charcoal production in Africa was estimated at more than $8 billion in 2007, creating livelihoods for about seven million women and men, and catering to a rapidly growing urban demand. From this standpoint, wood energy makes up an enterprise of industrial scale. 

So, instead of disregarding wood energy as outdated, we must think of the economic, social and environmental benefits that would derive from modernizing its use. After all, wood energy is still one of the most widespread renewable fuels at our disposal. We already have the technological know-how to enhance the sustainability of wood energy value chains. Across the European Union’s 28 member states, wood and solid biofuels produced through “modern” methods accounted for nearly half of total primary energy from renewables in 2012.

Clean air as a poverty reduction priority

Ernesto Sanchez-Triana's picture
​Many parts of the development community have long embraced the following narrative: When nations are young and poor, they are willing to sacrifice natural resources—dirtying their water and their air—to promote economic growth and meet their population’s basic needs. Then, once these nations achieve a certain level of wealth, they become less concerned with accumulating material goods and more concerned with quality-of-life issues, and only at that point are they willing to spend money—or sacrifice growth—for benefits like clean air.

However, a recent resolution by the World Health Organization's (WHO) governing body shows that this narrative is beginning to change. 

Can land registration institutions be reformed in deeply entrenched bureaucracies?

Wael Zakout's picture
Turkey has radically transformed its land title registration system, and decreased the turnaround time for recording property transactions to just two hours.
Turkey has radically transformed its land title registration system, and decreased the turnaround time for recording property transactions to just two hours.
I just returned from Turkey where I visited the Turkish Tabu Cadastre Agency (Land Registration Agency of Turkey). The agency had changed so much that I did not recognize it.
 
I remember my first visit to the agency in 2007. The agency is heavily staffed (15,000), has more than 100 branches and its main headquarters had once almost fallen apart. In my first visit, the head of the agency gave me a nice surprise: he showed me a land book that dated back to the 18th century, and included a record of my great-great-grandfather’s land title in Palestine.
 
The head of the agency had great plans to transform the agency by improving land records, introducing computerization and integrating the system into the overall e-government program, and setting a time limit of one day to register land transactions. Based on that an ambitious reform agenda, we worked together over a few months’ ‘time to prepare the cadastre modernization project. The Bank partly financed this reform through a $100 million loan, while the Turkish government funded the rest of the program. The project started in 2007, and I moved on to other positions later that year.
 
This time I had a second surprise. The institution is completely transformed. The main office has been completely and beautifully renovated. It now resembles any other government office in the US or Europe. The agency presented its achievements. It was amazing to see what had been accomplished in 8 years. The government is about to complete the renovation of the cadastre and the computerization of all land records, including historical records from Ottoman times. Service delivery has improved dramatically, with property transactions now being registered within 2 hours. They also integrated cadastre registration into the overall e-government program, which allows any Turkish citizen to access the record of their land/property online. Above all, customer satisfaction has reached 97% — something unheard of for land agencies, often known to be among the most corrupt agencies in many countries.

Rousseau isn’t the first, nor last, to negotiate a ‘social contract’

Mehrunisa Qayyum's picture
Also available in: Français | العربية | Español
Webcast Replay



“50% of Arab world citizens are dissatisfied with public services in their area,” according to a World Bank survey — which prompted not one, but two sessions at the World Bank Group-International Monetary Fund Spring Meetings. So it was no coincidence that the meme #BreaktheCycle emerged in another Middle East and North Africa (MENA) panel, “Creating Jobs and Improving Services: A New Social Contract in the Arab World,” which also revisited the theme of the social contract in both oil-importing and exporting countries.

Economists weigh in on oil prices and an uneven global recovery

Donna Barne's picture
Also available in: Español | Français | العربية | 中文
World Bank chief economists, clockwise from upper left: Senior Vice President and Chief Economist Kaushik Basu, Augusto de la Torre (Latin America and the Caribbean), Shanta Devarajan (Middle East and North Africa), Francisco Ferreira (Sub-Saharan Africa), Sudhir Shetty (East Asia and Pacific), Hans Timmer (Europe and Central Asia), Martin Rama (South Asia).


​Lower oil prices are a boon for oil importers around the world. But how well are oil-producing countries adapting to the apparent end of a decades-long “commodity supercycle” and lower revenues? And what does this mean for the global economy?

World Bank economists provided insights on the situation in six developing regions at a webcast event April 15 ahead of the World Bank Group-IMF Spring Meetings. The discussion focused on the challenge of creating sustainable global growth in an environment of slowing growth.

World Bank Chief Economist Kaushik Basu said the global economy is growing at 2.9% and is “in a state of calm, but a slightly threatening kind of calm. … Just beneath the surface, there’s a lot happening, and that leads to some disquiet, concern – and the possibilities of a major turnaround and improvement.”

Snowmelt, climate change and urban pollution—new perspectives

Tracy Hart's picture
Image by U.S. National Climate Assessment via Washington PostIt's been a snowy winter—not only here in Washington D.C., but also in places I travel, namely Jerusalem and Amman. The past week, the snowmelt runoff into Rock Creek in D.C. has been a sight to watch. It's also been a teachable moment for my daughter: we've talked about how snowmelt contributes to surface water flows.

Actually I talk, and she goes "okay, okay" looking out the window.

She and I have learned a few new facts to share: one is the linkage of irregular precipitation associated with global climate change.

Chris Mooney, the environment and climate change writer for the Washington Post, recently wrote a great article explaining why more snow is another result of climate change. D.C. is on the south border of the NE of the United States, where, as you can see from the map, (provided by the US National Climate Assessment), extreme rain/snow events have increased dramatically. Similarly, in Jerusalem three weeks ago, the snow came with sleet, blueberry-size hailstones (see below) and lightning.

Islamic sukuk: A promising form of finance for green infrastructure projects

Michael Bennett's picture
Also available in: العربية
Casablanca traffic. Arne Hoel/World Bank


Three trends in the  global financial market are converging to make sukuk, the Islamic financial instrument most similar to a conventional bond, a potentially viable form of finance for green investments: (1) banks are reluctant to finance infrastructure due to stricter capital requirements; (2) an increasing number of investors are interested in ‘environmentally sustainable investing’ (in other words, investing to promote activities seen as positive for the environment); and (3) the market for sukuk  is growing significantly. While these three trends are distinct and not obviously related, taken together, they create a market opportunity for sukuk to be used as a tool to finance environmentally sustainable infrastructure projects.
 
The need for significant infrastructure spending is obvious in both developed and developing countries. From crumbling transportation infrastructure in the United States to inadequate power generation capacity in India, the evidence is clear that improving infrastructure is a global priority. At the same time, popular concern about climate change and the detrimental impact of increasing greenhouse gas emissions has also made improving infrastructure in an environmentally sustainable manner a priority.

Creating and Sustaining an Essential Partnership for Food Safety

Juergen Voegele's picture
Also available in: العربية | Français | Español | 中文
Photo by John Hogg / World BankThis week, the Global Food Safety Partnership will hold its third annual meeting in Cape Town, just ahead of the holiday season when food safety issues are not on everyone’s minds. They should be. Unsafe food exacts a heavy toll on people and whole economies, and is cited as a leading cause of more than 200 illnesses. However, safe food does not need to be a luxury—which is something that motivates and animates our work at the World Bank Group. Food availability alone does not guarantee food safety. Increasingly, we are learning how food safety affects people, and disproportionately impacts the lives and livelihoods of poor people.This growing awareness about food safety is partly because of the food scares that have shaken many countries in recent years. Food safety incidents occur anywhere in the world—both in industrialized and developing countries alike and in countries large and small...

It’s Not the How; It’s the Why

Shanta Devarajan's picture
Also available in: Español | Français | العربية

Hardly a week goes by without my hearing the statement, “It’s not the What; it’s the How.”  On the reform of energy subsidies in the Middle East and North Africa, for instance, the discussion is focused not on whether subsidies should be reformed (everyone agrees they should be), but on how the reform should be carried out.  Similar points are made about business regulations,educationagriculture, or health. I confess to having written similar things myself.  And there is no shortage of such proposals on this blog
 
Reforms are needed because there is a policy or institutional arrangement in place that has become counterproductive.  But before suggesting how to reform it, we should ask why that policy exists at all, why it has persisted for so long, and why it hasn’t been reformed until now.  For these policies didn’t come about by accident.  Nor have they remained because somebody forgot to change them.  And they are unlikely to be reformed just because a policymaker happens to read a book, article or blog post entitled “How to reform…”

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